Run Your Business with Action & Impact
Emily Weltman (she/her) is the Founder of Collective Flow Consulting, Co-Founder of Rage2Rainbows, and a Social Entrepreneur. Her mission is to make work not suck, online and irl. She advises founders and solopreneurs, working to achieve gender parity and inclusion one business at a time. Emily’s colleague said it best when describing her work as, “Radical Authenticity, Radical Acceptance, and Deep Intersectionality”. Read below on how Emily’s work helps businesses become more impact-driven, three action steps readers can take to become more mission-driven, and learn more about Emily’s dedication to making the world a more inclusive and equitable place.
Jennifer Fink: Within your LinkedIn “About Me”, you write, “I believe creative work is about moving the needle towards equal opportunity, shared voices, safe spaces, and economic empowerment for all”. What is your favorite way you have moved the needle, personally or professionally?
Emily Weltman: As a team, I’d say hitting our goals and the numbers on how people feel when they work with us. You can see it in our very first impact report. I've also been rather proud of the impact I've made since officially launching my business—in the smaller ways, rather than the bigger ones. For example, I have my new hires, interns, subcontractors pitch me their salary ask. I believe in pay transparency so it’s at odds with that but I want to gauge each person's comfort around money. I have them go through contracting and negotiating with me so I can lead by example and they can learn by doing. Typically, I end up showing them how they should have asked for more, and then we pay them at or above market rate.
One of the college womxn I hired came back with the range she found for a similar role (between X and Y). Then, she asked for a rate below the lowest number. I was able to discuss best practices with her and I know that she will never underestimate her worth again. Recently, after 6 months, she approached me with a request for a title change—and had done some research, as well as prepped for the conversation. That to me is a small move that will lead to negotiating with her 1st full-time gig, something I don’t think happens often.
JF: At your company, coFLOWco, what best practices do you use to help radically shift the way that organizations operate, and ultimately the “future of work”?
EW: Writer and fellow futurist, LaKay Cornell, summed up my philosophy better than I ever could: Radical Authenticity, Radical Acceptance, and Deep Intersectionality. In practice, that means, “Please be honest if you feel like crap”, because I sure will. I am a very transparent and direct person, to a fault. I want everyone to feel they can be honest with me and their team without judgment. When things are hard, especially when life is impacting our ability to focus, we should be honest without it leading to disrespect (like working in a global pandemic for instance).
Come as you are (sings Nirvana in her head).
If you have cramps, the baby or new puppy kept you up all night, you’re distracted from the collapse of democracy, you can’t sleep because your relative has Covid, or you’re just cranky...go ahead and reschedule. Nothing is urgent unless there is a client deadline. I believe in setting goals, but unless something is due, no one should push through pain or sheer exhaustion to finish a spreadsheet or design deck.
I hire and partner with highly driven womxn, so I never doubt their commitment. I know that when they can, they will always go above and beyond. As so many experts point out, teams with trust and psychological safety are essential for us to do our best.
Agility vs. Rigidity
This means that to work with me you have to like playing fast and loose, rather than formal and structured. I find, for students, parents, entrepreneurs, and startups, this works well, because we all have so many competing things vying for our attention.
I’ve been a flex-work evangelizer since the 1980s. As a kid, watching my mom work from a home office–long before the internet! coFLOWco was already set up to work virtually, so no real shift was needed. If anything, it put all the initial systems we put in place to the test. (I think the team would agree we passed).
Hiring beyond your inner circle
Removing artificial or normative recruiting boundaries that might prevent me from hiring the best candidate is rule #1. Sometimes that person is across the country or further, but so what? Sometimes they didn’t finish the degree but have more skills. I find the excuses in corporate America for “we could not find a diverse candidate”, to be honest, utter B.S.
For a startup in the pandemic, I am proud to have shared opportunities with several solopreneurs and talented designers that were having an uphill battle finding work in the downturn. I am also thrilled we have been able to hire women and nonbinary contractors from diverse backgrounds, not because of a metric, but because of the value they immediately brought to the work. We have not hit all of our ESG targets—but for the first full year in business, during a pandemic, I am quite satisfied with the positive impacts we’ve made.
Digital 1st, but also human.
My company is highly flexible, I talk to my employees all the time. Check-in. Build relationships built on trust. I started using ice breakers and not just asking “how are you” or going right into work. Get to know each other for real, so you can be there for each other when things are hard. The world isn’t getting any easier.
JF: What kind of roadblocks do you see for organizations who want to become more impact-driven, but get stuck along the way? How do you help them overcome them?
EW: I think it depends on the size and leadership of the organization and how one defines impact-driven or social enterprise. Too many organizations throw around the idea of “purpose” but don’t mean it. To build an Activist Business, leaders and advocates must be a bit altruistic. I am not saying you need to be naive or too idealistic, but you have to want above all else, to make a difference.
Racial Justice activists, gender equality advocates, domestic and invisible labor experts, and many of my DEIB HR colleagues would agree: most companies use social good only when convenient. Usually, they take their plans only as far as a marketing stunt or social post. Don’t get stuck there; do the work to make the change you said you would. Follow through. If you can’t get beyond the post or intention, that’s where we come in. We take clients from there to action and impact.
I would say 90% of my new clients start with an intake/discovery phase that includes a brand audit and mission alignment. That's our fancy way of saying what are you about, what's your why, and are you living that way in your business day-to-day? If they're new, like for example a solopreneur consultant, we figure out their mission together... What impact do they want to make and where? We then build a roadmap to go after their vision.
For more established startups or small businesses, I keep reminding leadership of their goals, offer solutions to give back, ways to connect with their communities and help them hire more diverse talent and outsource/delegate more. Letting go is hard for founders- I know that first hand 😉
I’m also conscious of the fact that the demographic we want to support most is on a low-to-no budget. That’s why we’ve leaned into open source tools. We’re building a huge resource and research library that we can guide clients to because it’s so easy to get overwhelmed with information. The Sustainable Development Goals from the U.N., tech innovators, education, and design tools ensure our clients are using the latest social enterprise research and reports. We compile all this to make sure cutting-edge innovations in design, content, and operations reach the smallest businesses.
When we have a target (i.e. Create Gender Equality through Fair Pay) we can easily share resources to achieve that goal. The research nerd in me is always looking for some new information on anti-racism content, conscious language, decolonization of design, or how to create systems change. When our clients are ready to grow, we advise them in organizational development and help them hire diverse teams. I call this work subversive DEI because I am not in HR, but DEI should be part of the company's bones, not an add-on.
If you are clear about why you're doing something and who or what you are trying to fix/support/serve, the ways to make an impact become fairly self-evident. That said, one client called me “Google”, so I think a lot of the resources and tools are in my head. That is something I am working on: building more “products'' and setting up more tools for clients. For now, most of our support is ad-hoc and custom.
Besides clarity and focus on your mission, to achieve your purpose you need actual goals, a plan, accountability, and tracking. They don’t even need to be SMART goals right away. Start small. If you care about the earth, have your team or small business do something to fix up a rundown park. If you are a racial equity consultant, dedicate hours or a percentage of your salary to organizations that support young Black and Brown students. Unless you set a goal and keep track of metrics, including a report back to your clients or customers, you likely will let it slip. Businesses are already falling short of making the impact they said they would in June 2020 for BLM, partly for this reason.
"Do the work to make the change you said you would. Follow through. If you can’t get beyond the post or intention, that’s where we come in. We take clients from there to action and impact."
JF: As an established leader who has worked with many leaders across a wide variety of companies, name three action steps someone can take to be a more mission-driven leader.
EW: One, redefine growth and “making it”. We all have been taught to Go big or go home. Why? Patriarchy and capitalism. What about Stay small and stay in the game? As a social enterprise, you can’t default to capitalism growth at all costs. If you say you are building businesses that value People and Planet over Profit, how can getting big fast ensure you are protecting the people and planet? It can’t.
Last March, I made a new goal to simply help all of my clients make it through the pandemic, whether that meant financially, socially, or mentally. So many women shifted what their goals were, some because they could, and others because they were left with zero choices. My colleague Jen Macias, founder of Duende, said early on, our goal especially for femme founders from marginalized backgrounds, cannot be to thrive in a pandemic. We simply have to survive.
My revenue targets were fairly useless because I was defaulting there first: forecasting I can make X with X number of projects. I realized I don’t care about rapid growth that much. That would remove the ideation sessions and strategy creation I do 1:1 with entrepreneurs, possibly missing “ideas of creative, diverse leaders”.
Two sounds obvious: be mission-first in every area of your business. For example, if your mission is to make the world safer, as it is for my client Go Girl Ride, keep that in mind with every single step. Keep your WHY at the center of every decision you make. It also helps weed out less urgent or distracting tasks. Put the time in the logo or put the time in your screening process? Is this vehicle the safest? Are we thinking about safety in our internal processes of hiring, reviews, and even Covid restrictions?
Three, think about the most impacted or marginalized first. Consider what you can do to improve their lives even if they aren’t your target consumer. What I mean by this is, if you are creating a product or service, make sure it works well for the person who struggles most. If you are making a widget, can someone with arthritis use it? Great, now you know they can and someone without a disability can. Is the copy you’re using inclusive and the latest conscious language? Are you using alt-tags on images in social media? Do you offer pro bono or discounts? I take on 1 pro bono client at a time so I am sure I am always supporting a femme founder that would hire me if not for barriers to generational wealth. You don’t have to give your stuff away, but realize that there are great people who traditional businesses leave behind. To me, like revenue that went to a competitor, that is the impact you’ve left on the table. And I know I’m paying it forward. As an intersectional feminist and white woman in America-that is my work.
JF: You state “change is a great way to grow” via LinkedIn. Change can be very intimidating for some, what are some ways we can approach change in a positive, less scary way?
EW: This is something I am asked often and I will try. The problem for me is, I am a risk-taker/no regrets person in the business. I can ruminate and have spent many a night going over something in my head. BUT with business, I go with my gut. I truly believe your gut knows a lot and you can feel it. Biologically it’s true. Your gut makes all your serotonin. My advice to those intimidated by change, and I swear this is not a pitch, is partner with someone who likes change. I am always happy to have a pragmatist along for the ride to temper my “let’s go for it’ approach. On the flip side, those who are nervous tend to like having someone like me gently push them to take the leap or to keep nudging them along with praise. Just have someone in your corner and then go for it.
As a consultant, I’m great at exposing your strengths, quieting the inner critic. I amplify ideas and by doing so instill confidence that they’re worthy ideas. This also comes through crafting pitches and sales. When describing a client’s value prop it’s hard not to gush. It helps to see it on paper, too. I had a client once say “thank you for telling me back to me” and honestly, that is a lot of what I do. “Remember you said you wanted to have more balance? Say no to that project.” “Remember when you said you don’t like managing? Stop trying to hire people!”
Most of the time, not-white-men, especially, entrepreneurs, doubt they know what to do. But, they usually do. I stop the inertia to spin. We think guys like Bezos know exactly what they’re doing, right from the start. They don’t. But, their inner critic is a lot quieter, if there at all. Oh, to have the confidence of a mediocre white man pitching an idea he thought of just that morning. (Or his colleague thought of and told him about it before the pitch). I actually do roll in that confidence often enough...so I try and pass that on to other plagued by self-doubt.
"My advice to those intimidated by change, and I swear this is not a pitch, partner with someone who likes change."
JF: Another project you’re working on is Rage 2 Rainbows. Can you tell us more about it and your goals as a co-founder?
EW: Rage 2 Rainbows came out of a collaborative brainstorm with my cofounder Madison Butler. We launched Giving Tuesday, November 2020, as a Collective Action project to combat online bullying. Far too many people say they want to make an impact, invest in Black women, stop online harassment, but they don’t change their behavior or where their money goes. With a renewed focus (something we already watched) on censorship in social media, it’s a good time to continue to amplify the fact that women, especially BIPOC women are being harassed and treated far differently than men are on these platforms. Our goal is to fuel good rather than hate. Our first campaign is Don't Hate. Donate.
We’ve had a great response and I think the two of us together (and solo) are dynamic, engaging speakers. I hope we get asked to talk more about the project, and hopefully, people start putting their money where their mouths are. We've been invited on 3 podcasts and there is a good buzz around the idea, but so far, it’s come out of our pockets. Part of my mission is to give back financially, but I want our impact to be huge so we can draw attention to the uneven treatment of women, especially BIPOC women on social media. Combating trolls, harassment, and hate speech through Rage 2 Rainbows only addresses one facet of how tech is harmful and inequitable. I could see our org growing with new campaigns to create a safer world for everyone. For now, we call it a “project.”
JF: You are incredibly dedicated to social justice issues and how to make the world a better place for all. What are action steps someone can take who is just beginning to become involved in social justice issues, beyond social media interaction?
EW: “Reparations” does not have to be done on some grand scale to make a difference. Give locally to mutual aids and go fund me’s. If you see threads asking for cash to make rent, assume good intentions. If you read a story in the news that breaks you, odds are with a few quick googles you will find they have a crowdfunding campaign or Venmo. There are fake accounts and predatory people, though my experience has shown that Venmo’s are fairly easy to verify. The community holds people accountable and calls out fakes quickly on Twitter to alert others.
Follow the activists in your area. Don’t think there are any? Look at the nonprofits and follow their leadership. Diversify your feed-don’t just follow white people. And don’t just do it for show—that is not only exploitative but just as harmful. Start building real relationships with people outside your social circle. And read up on what you don’t know. If you are curious about something, don’t put the invisible labor of teaching you onto a marginalized person. I.e curious about a certain group? Ask a white person you know first, or go try Google. Do not go ask a Black woman how you can be a better ally or what they need from you. What they need is for you to do the work: read, learn about Black history, unpack your privilege. If you do get schooled, pay them. Offer every time.
"Combating trolls, harassment, and hate speech through Rage 2 Rainbows only addresses one facet of how tech is harmful and inequitable."
JF: You currently wear three professional hats (Principal Consultant, Co-Founder, and Design Instructor), what is your favorite activity to indulge in when you have a moment of downtime? Do you even have a moment of downtime?
EW: It’s tough to have true downtime because I don’t see a line between work and life, and rarely ever have. When I was a designer it wasn’t like I could turn off noticing color or a horrible Ad while watching TV.
Since there is so much bias in tech, and my work is mostly online, I’m inevitably working/always-on, taking note of a new injustice daily. In the Pandemic I have gone deeper into social media so that my “leisure” and work have blended even more, especially when the BLM protests were happening in Portland.
I do take time to build legos, watercolor, or hang with my fam. I miss traveling- that is my go-to way of enjoying life...my work usually comes with me in some capacity. And I miss Yin Yoga in person. It was my 2 nights a week to disconnect, and I can’t get into it at home. And as an activist for women and other underrepresented folx, I never turn that off at home, because I am raising 2 kids that I insist be anti-racist, feminist leaders, even if they are not outspoken like me. I can’t turn that off, because I want my kids to have safe online interactions and learn how to treat others with dignity and respect.
I have made bigger impacts on client revenue, and have done work leading to grants for clients. But making these leaders exorbitant amounts of money wasn’t the goal. It was to become a partner and trusted advisor and to help them shine. I joke to my clients: I only hitch my wagon to good stars, and I mean it. That is my favorite role and I'm honored that so many trust me with their career or business.
JF: At Fink Development, our goal is to support those who are truly dedicated to learning and development. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received, that has helped you grow personally or professionally?
EW: The best piece of advice I can give to others: Listen to Black women. Seriously, have you heard Stacey Abrams? or Kamala Harris? They have no time for B.S.
JF: Who are you most looking forward to connecting with in 2021?
EW: As you said, Fink is focused on those dedicated to L&D and I would say I am looking forward to learning more about inclusive tech/bias in tech. In coFLOWco’s brand values we say Education is Power, not only because I am a research nut, but because I teach too. I am always continuing to expand my knowledge of how to make the world safer IRL and especially online. Creating virtual safe spaces is so important if we are to move towards equality in the workplace and the world.
I got into a class on Ethics, Public Policy, and Technological Change at Stanford (cool, right?!). I will probably be the same age as the professors, but I am so excited to hear and learn from industry experts. Beyond that, I am excited to continue conversations with tech startups trying to create safer, more equitable communities, like Jess Zakira Wise founder of Mesh Communities. There are a few others but I don’t want to jinx it! I am not shy so I will reach out to just about anyone.
Contributor Bio: Emily Weltman (she/her) is the Founder of Collective Flow Consulting, Co-Founder of Rage2Rainbows, and a Social Entrepreneur with in Creative Ops, Business Development, and Content Strategy. Besides Consulting, she writes about the “Future of Work” and economic justice. She is working to achieve gender parity and inclusion one business at a time.